Saudi Arabia flag
Saudi Arabia flag

Labour have been left stunned by the blasé reaction from the Leader of the Council to news that the CEO of the Royal Pavilion & Museum Trust (RPMT) recently took a trip to Saudi Arabia, as part of Nadine Dorries MPs’ morally bankrupt cultural exchange initiative.

Launched by Dorries in February, many of Britain’s largest and most prestigious museums such as the Tate, the V&A and the British Museum immediately distanced themselves from the Culture Secretary’s distasteful ‘cultural links’ initiative with Saudi Arabia, due to the state’s abysmal human rights record.

Labour were shocked then that not only did the CEO of the RPMT partake in the initiative and jet off to Riyadh, but when Labour’s deputy leader Cllr Amanda Evans raised it with the Leader of the Green Council, the response amounted effectively to a shrug of the shoulders.

Cllr Evans raised the issue at a recent Full Council meeting, asking if the Leader of the Council was aware of RPMT CEO Hedley Swain’s involvement in the project, where he was snapped by the Saudi Gazette two days after the Kingdom announced a record 81 executions in one day. Labour’s deputy leader asked whether the Council thought it appropriate that our Royal Pavilion Chief should partake in such a jolly.

In an emailed response, all the Leader of the Council had to say was; ‘it was a diplomatic mission with the British Council, not a fundraising mission’, as if this somehow excuses matters.

Labour’s deputy leader, Cllr Evans said:

“Given Saudi Arabia’s extremely poor human rights record, particularly with regards to equalities issues, I wanted to know what the Council Leader knew about this trip, and whether the impact of it on the morale of LGBTQ+ and female council staff in particular had been considered.

“I was very taken aback to receive what felt like a wave of the hand and shrug of the shoulders in response.

“The Council Leader sent me a one line email explaining it was a diplomatic, not an economic trip, and that the RPMT CEO would be happy to speak to me about it.

“I will certainly be following up with the RPMT CEO to investigate further. I wonder though, why the Council Leader has no plans to do the same.

“As a City of Sanctuary, proud of our diversity and our record in seeking to increase equality and protect the vulnerable, I don’t want to see us endorsing cultural twinning with a state committing atrocities against women and minorities in their own state and civilians in others, and I would expect our Council leadership to take the same stance.

“Since I asked the question, I have been shown a number of emails by whistle-blowers working in several different departments and locations at the RMPT, all of them utterly outraged at the behaviour of the CEO in agreeing to go on this trip, and pointing out how it will damage the reputation of both the Royal Pavilion Museum Trust and that of the city more widely.

“Even though they fear for their jobs in the current climate at the trust, many have expressed their upset very clearly, though I understand Mr Swain has yet to address their concerns, and indeed that a number of meetings where he might have been asked to do so have been cancelled.”

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